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Osborne gets anti-austerity message as Tory and Labour councils join forces

Osborne gets anti-austerity message as Tory and Labour councils join forces

🕔18.May 2015

With a majority of English councils now under Tory control, George Osborne could have been forgiven for imagining that his continuing programme of austerity might get a slightly easier ride from the country’s town halls, but he can think again, writes Paul Dale.

The Local Government Association representing 375 county, district, unitary and metropolitan councils has written to the Chancellor complaining that another round of funding cuts would devastate local services and harm the most vulnerable in society.

In a letter to the Observer, the council bosses say they have already had to impose cuts of 40 per cent since 2010 and cannot find more savings without serious consequences for community life and social care, and knock-on effects for the NHS.

The council leaders also call for “a new settlement for England” based on devolving decisions about infrastructure, transport, housing, skills and health and social care to local areas.

The letter, which is also backed by the London boroughs and Welsh councils, claims that efficiency savings have been exhausted, and warns:

Councils have worked hard to shield residents from the impact of funding cuts. However, efficiencies cannot be remade or buildings resold.

Further local government funding reductions over the next five years are not an option. The new government must consider the consequences that further funding cuts, without radical reform of the way public money is spent, will have on the services which bind our communities together and protect the most vulnerable.

Cllr David Sparks, from Dudley, the Labour LGA chair, warned that “vital services, such as collecting bins, filling potholes and caring for the elderly, would struggle to continue at current levels”.

Other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS, would be “left to pick up the pieces” of councils scaling back services.

Cllr Sparks continued:

If our public services are to survive the next few years, councils need fairer funding and the freedom to pay for them. The public sector has to stop working in silos and join up even more.

We need a new settlement for England that devolves decisions about infrastructure, transport, housing, skills and health and social care to local areas so they can tackle the big issues facing residents.

Councils could then ensure elderly and disabled people receive the care they deserve, young people are equipped with skills to find local jobs, desperately needed homes are built, roads are maintained to high standards and every child has a place at a good school.

Birmingham city council, Britain’s largest public authority, has to find savings of about £100 million this year and expects to have slashed spending by about £800 million in the period 2010-2017.

Thousands of jobs have already disappeared, the council workforce stood at about 20,000 six years ago and is now heading towards 7,000. Most front line services have been protected so far, but Labour councillors are facing difficult decisions about the future of neighbourhood advice centres, children’s centres and the youth service and may move next year to reduce further opening hours at the Library of Birmingham.

Mr Osborne will deliver an emergency budget on July 8 in which he will explain how he intends to cut £12 billion from Britain’s welfare bill and announce a fresh wave of austerity measures. The chancellor says he wants to make a start delivering on commitments made in the Conservative party manifesto and that his package will be a budget for “working people”.

The Treasury says he will provide details of how the government plans to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit – forecast to be £75 billion this year – and run a surplus by the end of the parliament.

The centrepiece of the package will be a fresh bout of austerity. Provided the economy performs in line with forecasts made by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, borrowing will be reduced to £41 billion in 2016-17 and £14.5 billion in 2017-18. By 2018-19, the plan is for the UK to be running a budget surplus of £4 billion.

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